During the first week of January, more than 8,000 attendees, most of them young people from across the country, gathered together in downtown Chicago for the FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) SLS18 evangelization training conference. One of the featured speakers at the event was Father Mike Schmitz, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain for the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Father Schmitz is known for his popular Internet videos and podcasts about the Catholic faith, and is also the author of the new book Made for Love: Same-Sex Attractions and the Catholic Church, in which he presents the compassionate truth of Catholic teaching on same-sex attraction. Father Schmitz was able to find some time during the conference to talk a bit about this and other subjects.
Nicholas LaBanca, for CWR: When you first started recording your videos and podcasts, did you ever think you would reach so many people?
Father Mike Schmitz: No. The simple answer is no, I did not! I had been on campus for about two years, and it was roughly 2006 or 2007, and some students were like, “Hey you should record these [homilies]!” and I’m like, “Well, why?” [Laughter] They said they’d put them online. And I’m like, well that seems a little self-aggrandizing, we don’t need to do that! [But they said,] “You don’t have to do anything, just press record and we’ll figure it out, we’ll post it, we’ll manage it.” And that just kind of really seemed to help some folks.
Then the same with Ascension Press—they contacted me after I worked with them on a couple projects like Chosen, which is a confirmation prep program. They had said that they were launching a new website called Ascension Presents, and they described what the videos would be, and asked if I’d be interested. I was like, “OK, let me think about it and pray about it.” So it’s been really helpful, because I didn’t come up with any of these ideas! [Laughter] But it is just a gift, because I think it in some ways saved me from getting caught in the trap of being like, “I need to manage this!” I just let the Lord do what he wants to do with it.
CWR: You have a new book out called Made for Love: Same-Sex Attractions and the Catholic Church. Can you tell us a little bit about the book and why you wrote it? Was it a response to anything in particular, or have you been planning on releasing something like this for a while?
Father Schmitz: Years ago—actually many, many years ago, through a number of personal relationships, friendships, family members, and whatnot—I really had a sense, and it was placed on my heart at a young age, that this would be a reality that many people that I know and care about experience on a daily basis. So even when I went to seminary I remember thinking, I need to figure this out. I need to understand what it is the Church teaches, and why the Church teaches this, and then how we can love people better and call them to holiness, regardless of where they’re at. Whether they’re someone who experiences same-sex attraction or, [and] this happens a lot, whether there is someone who wants to be faithful, but they love someone or they know someone or are related to someone who experiences same-sex attraction, [and they think], “How do I stay in this Church that seems to hate my little sister? Or seems to say that my uncle is wrong?” or whatever the thing is. So I thought that this has been placed on my heart.
Then what happened was that as a priest, I found we had a ton of great youth and great young adults who encountered Jesus in a powerful way that transformed their lives. They knew the truth of the Eucharist, they knew the truth of the Church and all its beauty. But then they’d hit this issue and they’d say, “Yeah, I’m out.” They’d just leave, and I was like, “Oh my gosh! We need to do something.”
One of the big first steps I had taken was when I was at this youth event and they said, “What do you want to preach about to these 1,500-2,000 youths?” I said, I think this is the issue. This is the one that’s important. They recorded it, and then Lighthouse Media made it into a CD—it’s the very confusing title “From Love, By Love, For Love.” And then in 2016, there was the Steubenville conference, and they asked me to speak on the same issue. Then Ignatius Press said, “We really think you should make this into a book.” So I’m like, “Well, that seems difficult.” [Laughter]
But then over the course of years of praying through this and writing and rewriting, it just became clear again that the main objectives of [such a book were]: what does the Church teach? why does the Church teach this? how should we articulate this? and how can a person live this when this touches their life?
The big call is to discipleship in Jesus, and the big call is holiness. The big call is that you are made for love regardless of where you’re at, regardless of your experience, regardless of your story—that your actual story is your origin and your destiny. The details of our lives are important; our experiences are important and they are very valuable, but my experiences can’t define me. And one of the chapters of the book talks about that: what do I allow to define me? Is it my experiences?
Think about this. Think about someone who has been hurt by the cruelty of others and they’ve been denigrated in how people have treated them. Well, if my experiences define me, then that’s who I am. Or if I’ve chosen the wrong thing, if I’ve gone down this path that I shouldn’t have gone down—if my experiences define me, then that’s who I am. But I can be defined by something more, by my origin, by the fact that I’ve been made on purpose by a God who loves me, and am defined by my end, which is that I am made to live with that God forever and that I’ve been created on purpose. If I’m a Christian, I’ve been recreated as a son or daughter of God himself, and so even if my experience or even my story has a lot of brokenness in it—and I think a lot of ours do—and even if my experience or my story has a lot of pain or attraction to whatever, it doesn’t matter. My identity is not that. And I can rise above that. I can live it. It’s part of my story, but that’s not the end of my story.
CWR: It seems that one of the reasons so many people today are confused about the Church’s teaching regarding sexual acts between members of the same sex is that, unfortunately, there are a number of leaders either obscuring the issue or are in outright opposition to Church teaching. I’d like to read a portion of a comment from [Father James Martin, SJ] in a Facebook video, where he replies to a question about how one is to respond to portions of Leviticus or Corinthians condemning homosexuality. I hope you don’t mind if I read a decent portion of his answer, so as to get your full take on it. [Father Martin] responds, and I quote:
All these Bible passages people throw at you…Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and even the stuff in the New Testament where Paul talks about it once or twice, has to be understood in their historical context. The Bible is written in a particular time; it’s the inspired Word of God, but it is written, certainly, in a particular time and in a particular historical context. Certainly in Old Testament times, they didn’t understand the phenomena of homosexuality, and bisexuality I would say, as we do today. I’d also like to say that there’s a lot of other stuff in Leviticus that we sort of understand in its historical context, like what kind of slaves can we have, whether or not we can wear certain kinds of clothes, whether or not our crops can be next to one another. We don’t look at those passages in an a-historical way, so why should we look at passages on homosexuality that way? And I’d also like to say that in his…three-year public ministry, Jesus says nothing about the topic.
How would you respond to such a commentary on Scripture?
Father Schmitz: That’s a great question. There are a number of ways to begin. The argument from silence is one of the worst arguments you can have. Jesus also didn’t comment on recycling. He didn’t comment on nuclear bombs. He didn’t comment on a lot of things. So a person could just as adamantly argue that his silence on the topic indicates that his time’s perspective on homosexual acts was so universally accepted, and so endorsed by him, that he didn’t feel a need to comment on it. You could just as easily make that statement. But again, it would be an argument from silence, so let’s not do that.
When it comes to the Old Testament—say, Leviticus—it’s troubling to me sometimes when people just lump Leviticus as one general book. It is one book, but there are divisions in that book with regard to different kinds of laws, and those laws are very clearly indicated. It’s very clear that when you read Leviticus, and understand it, [you can say] that, “Oh, these are laws regarding the temple. These are laws, strictly speaking, regarding the kingdom of Israel or the community of Israel. And these are laws that have to do with all human living.” If you want to go to the commandments regarding homosexual activity, those are clearly referencing not just the Jewish people, but the entire community surrounding the Jewish people as well, including the Canaanites and whatnot.
Next, people continue to say that we didn’t understand, back then, that there was such a thing as pervasive homosexual feelings or bisexual attractions. I would maintain that that is not very historical. I would maintain that there are a number of cases in those cultures—Mesopotamian cultures and Greek culture, Roman culture—where it was maybe not understood from a [psychological perspective] in the sense that we have psychology now, but they were very accustomed to and very familiar with homosexual actions that were mutually consenting. So to say, “Oh that was only between older men and young boys”—yes that happened, but to say that’s only that, it seems to, in some ways, be historically insincere and intellectually dishonest.
Lastly, I would say that we would take into account not just this biblical text that says x, y, and z, we would take into account the framework for the entire Scriptures. The framework for the entire Scriptures is this: it begins with the wedding, it ends with the wedding. It begins with that wedding of man and woman, Adam and Eve, it ends with the wedding of, in a certain sense, male and female. The Bridegroom, Christ, and the Bride, the Church. The template throughout the whole Scriptures is male/female. … The context itself is going to be that men and women are created both in God’s image and likeness and in a complementary way that is really unique. That’s absolutely clear in a thorough reading of Scripture. I really recommend Dr. Mary Healy. She’s written a very short book called Scripture, Mercy, and Homosexuality. She’s a genius! She’s a Scripture scholar and she answers all of these issues in a really concise way that is really powerful and valuable.
CWR: To go back just a bit, when somebody claims that the commandments prohibiting the eating of shellfish or the mixing of two fabrics together are on par with commandments prohibiting incest or sexual acts between people of the same sex, we can safely say that we’re talking about two different commandments, correct? One set of laws are only applying to the Jewish people in a certain time and place, but then the other set of laws are applying to everyone as a whole, universally. Is this accurate?
Father Schmitz: Yes, and even if it’s only separated by one verse, the language that’s in that text, or the language that’s in that verse, is indicative of a greater commandment.
CWR: In your book, you talk about nature and the ends of human sexuality. Many people today in our culture flatly reject the notion that there are such things as natural ends. How do you respond to those who hold such a worldview?
Father Schmitz: The first of two things [to do] is to demonstrate where there are natural ends. So what’s the end of the digestive system? It is to digest food and to nourish your body. So you recognize that this is intrinsic and proper to the thing itself. But then [secondly], demonstrate where we can use things that have in and of themselves intrinsic ends for our own purposes, provided that those purposes don’t violate the end for which the thing was created. So there are times when we can [for example] sit on this table here. You can use it for another purpose. But I also have to recognize that I can’t, at the same time, violate that original end or original intention or original purpose of the thing without violating the thing itself.